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Is Life Worth Living? 

William Iames 


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Professor of Psychology in Harvard University. 

The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols., 8vo. New York : 
Henry Holt & Co. London ; Macmillan & Co. 1890. 

Psychology. Briefer Course. lamo. Ibid., 1892. ^1.60. 

Is Life Worth Living? 


William James 






THE address contained in this book was 
originally given before the Young 
Men's Christian Association of Harvard 
University, in May, 1895. It was after- 
wards repeated before the Society for Ethi- 
cal Culture of Philadelphia and the School 
of Applied Ethics at Plymouth. It was 
printed in the International Journal of 
Ethics for October, 1895, and, the demand 
for it having been so great, we are glad to 
have the permission of the author and of 
the management of the Journal to republish 
it in more convenient form. 

The author desires us to add that he 
owes his application of the quotation with 
which the address closes, to Mr. W. M. 
Salter, who used it in a similar way in an 
article in the Index for August 24, 1882. 


WHEN Mr. Mallock's book with this 
title appeared some fifteen years 
ago, the jocose answer that " it depends on 
the liver''' had great currency in the news- 
papers. The answer that I propose to give 
to-night cannot be jocose. In the words 
of one of Shakespeare's prologues, 

" I come no more to make you laugh ; things now, 
That bear a weighty and a serious brow, 
Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe," 

must be my theme. In the deepest heart 
of all of us there is a corner in which the 
ultimate mystery of things works sadly, and 
I know not what such an Association as 
yours intends nor what you ask of those 
whom you invite to address you, unless it 
be to lead you from the surface- glamour of 


existence and for an hour at least to make 
you heedless to the buzzing and jigging and 
vibration of small interests and excitements 
that form thq^ tissue of our ordinary con- 
sciousness. Without further explanation or 
apology, then, I ask you to join me in turn- 
ing an attention, commonly too unwilling, 
to the profounder bass-note of life. Let us 
search the lonely depths for an hour to- 
gether and see what answers in the last 
folds and recesses of things our question 
may find. 


With many men the question of life's 
worth is answered by a temperamental opti- 
mism that makes them Incapable of be- 
lieving that anything seriously evil can ex- 
ist. Our dear old Walt Whitman's works 
are the standing text-book of this kind of 


optimism ; the mere joy of living is so 
immense in Walt Whitman's veins that it 
abolishes the possibility of any other kind 
of feeling. 


" To breathe the air, how deUcious ! 

To speak, to walk, to seize something by the hand ! . . . 

To be this incredible God I am ! . . . 

O amazement of things, even the least particle ! 

spirituality of things ! . . . 

1 too carol the Sun, usher'd or at noon, or as now, setting, 
I too throb to the brain and beauty of the earth and of 

all the growths of the earth. . . . 


I sing to the last the equalities, modern or old, 

I sing the endlef s finales of things, 

I say Nature continues glory continues, 

I praise with electric voice. 

For I do not see one imperfection in the universe. 

And I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last." 

So Rousseau, writing of the nine years he 
spent at Annecy, with nothing but his hap- 
piness to tell : 

" How tell what was neither said nor done nor even 
thought, but tasted only and felt, with no object of my 
felicity but the emotion of felicity itself. I rose with the 
sun and I was happy ; I went to walk and I was happy ; I 


saw ' Maman ' and I was happy ; I left her and I was 
happy. I rambled through the woods and over the vine- 
slopes, I wandered in the valleys, I read, I lounged, I 
worked in the garden, I gathered the fruits, I helped at the 
indoor work, and happiness followed me everywhere ; it 
was in no one assignable thing; it was all within myself; 
it could not leave me for a single instant." 

If moods like this could be made perma- 
nent and constitutions like these universal, 
there would never be any occasion for such 
discourses as the present one. No philos- 
opher would seek to prove articulately that 
life is worth living, for the fact that it ab- 
solutely is so would vouch for itself and the 
problem disappear in the vanishing of the 
question rather than in the coming of any- 
thing like a reply. But we are not magi- 
cians to make the optimistic temperament 
universal; and alongside of the deliverances 
of temperamental optimism concerning life, 
those of temperamental pessimism always 
exist and oppose to them a standing refu- 


tation. In what is called circular insanity, 
phases of melancholy succeed phases of 
mania, with no outward cause that we can 
discover, and often enough to one and the 
same well person life will offer incarnate 
radiance to-day and incarnate dreariness to- 
morrow, according to the fluctuations of 
what the older medical books used to call 
the concoction of the humors. In the words 
of the newspaper joke, " it depends on the 
liver." Rousseau's ill-balanced constitution 
undergoes a change, and behold him in his 
latter evil days a prey to melancholy and 
black delusions of suspicion and fear. And 
some men seem launched upon the world 
even from their birth with souls as incapa- 
ble of happiness as Walt Whitman's was 
of gloom, and they have left us their mes- 
sages in even more lasting verse than his 
the exquisite Leopardi, for example, or our 


own contemporary, James Thomson, in that 
pathetic book, *' The City of Dreadful 
Night," which I think is less well-known 
than it should be for its literary beauty, 
simply because men are afraid to quote its 
words they are so gloomy and at the same 
time so sincere. In one place the poet 
describes a congregation gathered to listen 
to a preacher in a great unillumined cathe- 
dral at night. The sermon is too long to 
quote, but it ends thus : 

" O Brothers of sad lives ! they are so brief; 
A few short years must bring us all relief: 

Can we not bear these years of laboring breath ? 
But if you would not this poor life fulfil, 

Lo, you are free to end it when you will, 
Without the fear of waking after death. 

The organ-like vibrations of his voice, 

Thrilled through the vaulted aisles and died away ; 
The yearning of the tones which bade rejoice 

Was sad and tender as a requiem lay : 
Our shadowy congregation rested still 
As brooding on that ' End it when you will.* 


Our shadowy congregation rested still, 
As musing on that message we had heard 

And brooding on that ' End it when you will' ; 
Perchance awaiting yet some other word ; 

When keen as lightning through a muffled sky 

Sprang forth a shrill and lamentable cry : 

The man speaks sooth, alas ! the man speaks sooth. 
We have no personal life beyond the grave ; 

There is no God ; Fate knows nor wrath nor ruth : 
Can I find here the comfort which I crave ? 

In all eternity I had one chance, 

One few years' term of gracious human life : 
The splendors of the intellect's advance, 

The sweetness of the home with babes and wife ; 

The social pleasures with their genial wit ; 

The fascination of the worlds of art ; 
The glories of the worlds of nature lit 

By large imagination's glowing heart ; 

The rapture of mere being, full of health ; 

The careless childhood and the ardent yotith. 
The strenuous manhood winning various wealth. 

The reverend age serene with life's long truth : 

All the sublime prerogatives of Man ; 

The storied memories of the times of old, 
The patient tracking of the world's great plan 

Through sequences and changes myriadfold. 


This chance was never offered me before ; 

For me the infinite past is blank and dumb : 
This chance recurreth never, nevermore ; 

Blank, blank for me the infinite To-come. 

And this sole chance was frustrate from my birth, 
A mockery, a delusion ; and my breath 

Of noble human life upon this earth 

So racks me that I sigh for senseless death. 

My wine of life is poison mixed with gall, 
My noonday passes in a nightmare dream, 

I worse than lose the years which are my all : 
What can console me for the loss supreme ? 

Speak not of comfort where no comfort is. 

Speak not at all : can words make foul things fair ? 

Our life's a cheat, our death a black abyss : 
Hush, and be mute envisaging despair. 

This vehement voice came from the northern aisle 
Rapid and shrill to its abrupt harsh close ; 

And none gave answer for a certain while, 

For words must shrink from these most wordless woes ; 

At last the pulpit speaker simply said. 

With humid eyes and thoughtful, drooping head, 

My Brother, my poor Brothers, it is thus : 
This life holds nothing good for us. 

But it ends soon and nevermore can be ; 
And we knew nothing of it ere our birth. 
And shall know nothing when consigned to earth ; 

I ponder these thoughts and they comfort me." 


" It ends soon and nevermore can be," 
" Lo, you are free to end it when you will," 
these verses flow truthfully from the 
melancholy Thomson's pen, and are in truth 
a consolation for all to whom, as to him, 
the world is far more like a steady den of 
fear than a continual fountain of delight. 
That life is not worth living the whole army 
of suicides declare an army whose roll- 
call, like the famous evening drum-beat of 
the British army, follows the sun round the 
world and never terminates. We, too, as 
we sit here in our comfort, must " ponder 
these things " also, for we are of one sub- 
stance with these suicides, and their life is 
the life we share. The plainest intellectual 
integrity, nay, more, the simplest manliness 
and honor, forbid us to forget their case. 

" If suddenly," says Mr, Ruskin, " in the midst of the 
enjoyments of the palate and lightnesses of heart of a Lon- 


don dinner-party, the walls of the chamber were parted, and 
through their gap the nearest human beings who were 
famishing and in misery were borne into the midst of the 
company feasting and fancy free if, pale from death, hor- 
rible in destitution, broken by despair, body by body they 
were laid upon the soft carpet, one beside the chair of 
every guest, would only the crumbs of the dainties be cast 
to them would only a passing glance, a passing thought, be 
vouchsafed to them ? Yet the actual facts, the real relation 
of each Dives and Lazarus, are not altered by the inter- 
vention of the house-wall between the table and the sick- 
bed by the few feet of ground (how few!) which are, 
indeed, all that separate the merriment from the misery." 


To come immediately to the heart of my 
theme, then, what I propose is to imagine 
ourselves reasoning with a fellow-mortal 
who is on such terms with life that the only 
comfort left him is to brood on the assur- 
ance '* you may end it when you will." 
What reasons can we plead that may render 
such a brother (or sister) willing to take up 
the burden again ? Ordinary Christians, 


reasoning with would-be suicides, have httle 
to offer them beyond the usual negative 
" thou shalt not." God alone is master of 
life and death, they say, and it is a blas- 
phemous act to anticipate his absolving 
hand. But can zve find nothing richer or 
more positive than this, no reflections to 
urge whereby the suicide may actually see, 
and in all sad seriousness feel, that in spite 
of adverse appearances even for him life is 
worth living still ? There are suicides and 
suicides in the United States about three 
thousand of them every year and I must 
frankly confess that with perhaps the ma- 
jority of these my suggestions are impotent 
to deal. Where suicide is the result of 
insanity or sudden frenzied impulse, reflec- 
tion is impotent to arrest its headway; and 
cases like these belong to the ultimate mys- 
tery of evil concerning which I can only 


offer considerations tending towards relig- 
ious patience at the end of this hour. My 
task, let me say now, is practically narrow, 
and my words are to deal only with that 
metaphysical tediiini vitce which is peculiar 
to reflecting men. Most of you are devoted 
for good or ill to the reflective life. Many 
of you are students of philosophy, and have 
already felt in your own persons the scep- 
ticism and unreality that too much grubbing 
in the abstract roots of things will breed. 
This is, indeed, one of the regular fruits of 
the over-studious career. Too much ques- 
j tioning and too little active responsibility 
lead, almost as often as too much sensual- 
ism does, to the edge of the slope, at the 
bottom of which lie pessimism and the 
nightmare or suicidal view of life. But to 
the diseases which reflection breeds, still 
further reflection can oppose effective reme- 


dies ; and it is of the melancholy and 
Weltschmerz bred of reflection that I now 
proceed to speak. 

Let me say immediately that my final 
appeal is to nothing more recondite than 
religious faith. So far as my argument 
is to be destructive, it will consist in noth- 
ing more than the sweeping away of certain 
views that often keep the springs of relig- 
ious faith compressed ; and so far as it is 
to be constructive it will consist in holding 
up to the light of day certain considerations 
calculated to let loose these springs in a 
normal, natural way. Pessimism is essen- 
tially a religious disease. In the form of it 
to which you are most liable it consists in 
nothincr but a relicrious demand to which 
there comes no normal religious reply. 

Now there are two stages of recovery 
from this disease, two different levels upon 


which one may emerge from the midnight 
view to the daylight view of things, and I 
must treat of them in turn. The second 
stage is the more complete and joyous, and 
it corresponds to the freer exercise of relig- 
ious trust and fancy. There are, as is well 
known, persons who are naturally very free 
in this regard, others who are not at all so. 
There are persons, for instance, whom we 
find indulging to their heart's content in 
prospects of immortality, and there are 
others who experience the greatest diffi- 
culty in making such a notion seem real to 
themselves at all. These latter persons are 
tied to their senses, restricted to their 
natural experience ; and many of them 
moreover feel a' sort of intellectual loyalty 
to what they call hard facts which is posi- 
tively shocked by the easy excursions into 
the unseen that they witness other people 


make at the bare call of sentiment. Minds 
of either class may, however, be intensely- 
religious. They may equally desire atone- 
ment, harmony, reconciliation, and crave 
acquiescence and communion with the total 
Soul of Things. But the craving, when 
the mind is pent in to the hard facts, espe- 
cially as "Science" now reveals them, can 
breed pessimism, quite as easily as it breeds 
optimism when it inspires religious trust 
and fancy to wing their way to an other and 
a better world. 

That is why I call pessimism an essen- 
tially religious disease. The nightmare 
view of life has plenty of organic sources, 
but its great reflective source in these days, 
and at all times, has been the contradiction 
between the phenomena of Nature and the 
craving of the heart to believe that behind 
Nature there is a spirit whose expression 


Nature is. What philosophers call natural 
theology has been one way of appeasing 
this craving. That poetry of nature in which 
our English literature is so rich has been 
another way. Now suppose a mind of the 
latter of our two classes, whose imagination 
is pent in consequently, and who takes its 
facts " hard ; " suppose it, moreover, to feel 
strongly the craving for communion, and 
yet to realize how desperately difficult it is 
to construe the scientific order of Nature 
either theologically or poetically, and what 
result can there be but inner discord and 
contradiction ? Now this inner discord 
(merely as discord) can be relieved in either 
of two ways. The longing to read the facts 
religiously may cease, and leave the bare 
facts by themselves. Or supplementary 
facts may be discovered or believed in, 
which permit the religious reading to go 


on. And these two ways of relief are the 
two stages of recovery, the two levels of 
escape from pessimism, to which I made 
allusion a moment ago, and which w^hat 
follows will, I trust, make more clear. 


Starting then with Nature, we naturally 
tend, if w^e have the religious craving, to 
say with Marcus Aurelius, O Universe, 
what thou wishest I wish. Our sacred 
books and traditions tell us of one God 
who made heaven and earth, and looking 
on them saw that they were good. Yet, 
on more intimate acquaintance, the visible 
surfaces of heaven and earth refuse to be 
brought by us into any intelligible unity at 
all. Every phenomena that we would 
praise there exists cheek by jowl with some 


contrary phenomenon that cancels all its 
religious effect upon the mind. Beauty 
and hideousness, love and cruelty, life and 
death keep house together in indissoluble 
partnership ; and there gradually steals 
over us, instead of the old warm notion of 
a man-loving Deity, that of an awful Power 
that neither hates nor loves, but rolls all 
things together meaninglessly to a common 
doom. This is an uncanny, a sinister, a 
nightmare view of life, and its peculiar un- 
heimlichkeit or poisonousness lies expressly 
in our holding two things together which 
cannot possibly agree, in our clinging on 
the one hand to the demand that there shall 
be a living spirit of the whole, and, on the 
other, to the belief that the course of nature 
must be such a spirit's adequate manifesta- 
tion and expression. It is in the contradic- 
tion between the supposed being of a spirit 


that encompasses and owns us and with 
which we oucfht to have some communion, 
and the character of such a spirit as rev^ealed 
by the visible world's course, that this par- 
ticular death-in-life paradox and this melan- 
choly-breeding puzzle reside. Carlyle ex- 
presses the result in that chapter of his 
immortal ''Sartor Resartus" entitled The 
Everlasting No. " I lived," writes poor 
Teufelsdrockh, " in a continual indefinite 
pining fear; tremulous, pusillanimous, ap- 
prehensive of I knew not what : it seemed 
as if all things in the Heavens above and 
the Earth beneath would hurt me ; as if 
the Heavens and the Earth were but bound- 
less Jaws of a devouring Monster, wherein 
I, palpitating, lay waiting to be devoured." 
This is the first stage of speculative mel- 
ancholy. No brute can have this sort of 
melancholy, no man that is irreligious can 


become its prey. It is the sick shudder of 
the frustrated religious demand, and not the 
mere necessary outcome of animal experi- 
ence. Teufelsdrockh himself could have 
made shift to face the general chaos and 
bedevilment of this world's experiences very 
well were he not the victim of an originally 
unlimited trust and affection towards them. 
If he might meet them piecemeal, with no 
suspicion of any Whole expressing itself in 
them, shunning the bitter parts and husband- 
ing the sweet ones, as the occasion served, 
and as (to use a vulgar phrase) he struck it 
fat or lean, he could have zigzagged fairly 
towards an easy end, and felt no obligation 
to make the air vocal with his lamentations. 
The mood of levity, of "I don't care," is 
for this world's ills a sovereign and practical 
anaesthetic. But no! something deep down 
in Teufelsdrockh and in the rest of us tells 


US that there is a spirit in things to which we 
owe allegiance and for whose sake we must 
keep up the serious mood, and so the inner 
fever and discord also are kept up for 
Nature taken on her visible surface reveals 
no such spirit, and beyond the facts of Nature 
we are at the present stage oi our inquiry 
not supposing ourselves to look. 

Now, I do not hesitate frankly and sin- 
cerely to confess to }^ou that this real and 
genuine discord seems to me to cany 
with it the inevitable bankruptcy of nat- 
ural religion naively and simply taken. 
There were times when Leibnitzes with 
their heads buried in monstrous wigs could 
compose Theodicies,. and when stall-fed 
officials of an established church could 
prove by the valves in the heart and the 
round ligament of the hip-joint the exist- 
ence of a " Moral and Intelligent Con- 


triver of the World." But those times are 
past; and we of the nineteenth century, with 
our evolutionary theories and our mechan- 
ical philosophies, already know nature too 
impartially and too well to worship unre- 
servedly any god of whose character she 
can be an adequate expression. Truly all 
we know of good and beauty proceeds from 
nature, but none the less so all we know of 
evil. Visible nature is all plasticity and in- 
difference, a moral multiverse, as one might 
call it, and not a moral universe. To such 
a harlot we owe no allegiance ; with her as 
a whole we can establish no moral com- 
munion ; and we are free in our dealings 
with her several parts to obey or destroy, 
and to follow no law but that of prudence 
in coming to terms with such of her partic- 
ular features as will help us to our private 
ends. If there be a divine Spirit of the 


universe, Nature, such as we know her, 
cannot possibly be its ultimate ivord X.Q man. 
Either there is no spirit revealed in nature, 
or else it is inadequately revealed there ; 
and (as all the higher religions have as- 
sumed) what we call visible nature, or this 
world, must be but a veil and surface-show 
whose full meaning resides in a supplemen- 
tary unseen or other world. 

I cannot help, therefore, accounting it on 
the whole a gain (though it may seem for 
certain poetic constitutions a very sad loss) 
that the naturalistic superstition, the worship 
of the god of nature simply taken as such 
should have begun to loosen its hold upon 
the educated mind. In fact, if I am to ex- 
press my personal opinion unreservedly, I 
should say (in spite of its sounding blas- 
phemous at first to certain ears) that the 
initial step towards getting into healthy 


ultimate relations with the universe is the 
act of rebellion against the idea that such a 
God exists. Such rebellion essentially is 
that which in the chapter quoted a while 
ago Carlyle goes on to describe: 

" ' Wherefore, like a coward, dost thou forever pip and 
whimper, and go cowering and trembling ? Despicable 
biped ! ... Hast thou not a heart ; canst thou not suffer 
whatsoever it be ; and, as a Child of Freedom, though out- 
cast, trample Tophet itself under thy feet, while it con- 
sumes thee? Let it come, then; I will meet it and defy 
it !' And as I so thought, there rushed like a stream of fire 
over my whole soul ; and I shook base Fear away from 
me forever. . . . 

"Thus had the Everlasting No pealed authoritatively 
through all the recesses of my being, of my ME ; and 
then was it that my whole ME stood up, in native God- 
created majesty, and recorded its Protest. Such a Protest, 
the most important transaction in life, may that same 
Indignation and Defiance, in a psychological point of view, 
be fitly called. The Everlasting No had said : ' Behold, 
thou art fatherless, outcast, and the Universe is mine"; to 
which my whole Me now made answer : ' I am not thine, 
but Free, and forever hate thee!" "From that hour," 
Teufelsdrockh-Cariyle adds, " I began to be a man." 

And our poor friend, James Thomson, 
similarly writes : 


" Who is most wretched in this dolorous place ? 
I think myself; yet I would rather be 
My miserable self than He, than He 
Who formed such creatures to his own disgrace. 

The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou 
From whom it had its being, God and Lord ! 
Creator of all woe and sin ! abhorred, 

Malignant and implacable ! I vow 

That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled, 
For all the temples to Thy glory built. 
Would I assume the ignominious guilt 

Of having made such men in such a world." 

We are familiar enough in this com- 
munity with the spectacle of persons exult- 
ing in their emancipation from belief in the 
God of their ancestral Calvinism, him who 
made the garden and the serpent and pre- 
appointed the eternal fires of hell. Some 
of them have found humaner Gods to 
worship, others are simply converts from 
all theology ; but both alike they assure us 
that to have got rid of the sophistication of 
thinking they could feel any reverence or 


duty towards that impossible idol gave a 
tremendous happiness to their souls. Now, 
the idol of a worshipful spirit of Nature also 
leads to sophistication ; and in souls that 
are religious and would also be scientific, 
the sophistication breeds a philosophical 
melancholy from which the first natural step 
of escape is the denial of the idol ; and with 
the downfall of the idol, whatever lack of 
positive joyousness may remain, there comes 
also the downfall of the whimpering and 
cowering mood. With evil simply taken as 
such, men can make short work, for their 
relations with it then are only practical. It 
looms up no longer so spectrally, it loses 
all its haunting and perplexing significance 
as soon as the mind attacks the instances 
of it singly and ceases to worry about their 
derivation from the " one and only Power." 
Here, then, on this stage of mere emanci- 


pation from monistic superstition, the would- 
be suicide may already get encouraging 
answers to his question about the worth of 
life. There are in most men instinctive 
springs of vitality that respond healthily 
when the burden of metaphysical and in- 
finite responsibility rolls off. The certainty 
that you now 7nay step out of life whenever 
you please, and that to do so is not blas- 
phemous or monstrous, is itself an immense 
relief The thousrht of suicide is now no 
longer a guilty challenge and obsession. 

"This little life is all we must endure. 
The grave's most holy peace is ever sure." 

says Thomson ; adding, " I ponder these 
thoughts, and they comfort me." Meanwhile 
we can always stand it for twenty-four hours 
longer, if only to see what to-morrow's 
newspaper will contain or what the next 
postman will bring. But far deeper forces 


than this mere vital curiosity are arousable, 
even in the pessimistically-tending mind ; 
for where the loving and admiring impulses 
are dead, the hating and fighting impulses 
will still respond to fit appeals. This evil 
which we feel so deeply is something which 
we can also help to overthrow, for its 
sources, now that no " Substance " or 
" Spirit" is behind them, are finite, and we 
can deal with each of them in turn. It is, 
indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings 
and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the 
love of life ; they seem, on the contrary, 
usually to give it a keener zest. The sover- 
eign source of melancholy is repletion. 
Need and struggle are what excite and in- 
spire us ; our hour of triumph is what 
brings the void. Not the Jews of the cap- 
tivity, but those of the days of Solomon's 
glory are those from whom the pessimistic 


utterances in our Bibles come. Germany, 
when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs 
of Bonaparte's troopers, produced perhaps 
the most optimistic and ideahstic literature 
that the world has seen ; and not till the 
French " milliards " were distributed after 
1 87 1 did pessimism overrun the country in 
the shape in which we see it there to-day. 
The history of our own race is one long 
commentary on the cheerfulness that comes 
with fighting ills. Or take the Waldenses, 
of whom I lately have been reading, as ex- 
amples of what strong men will endure. 
In 1485, a papal bull of Innocent VIII. 
enjoined tlieir extermination. It absolved 
those who should take up the cross against 
them from all ecclesiastical pains and pen- 
alties, released them from any oath, legiti- 
mized their title to all property which they 
might have illegally acquired, and prom- 


ised remission of sins to all who should 
kill the heretics. 

"There is no town in Piedmont," says a Vaudois 
writer, " where some of our brethren have not been put to 
death. Jordan Terbano was burnt alive at Susa ; Hippo- 
hte Rossiero at Turin ; Michael Goneto, an octogenarian, 
at Sarcena ; Vilermin Ambrosio hanged on the Col di 
Meano ; Hugo Chiambs, of Fenestrelle, had his entrails 
torn from his living body at Turin ; Peter Geymarali of 
Bobbio in like manner had his entrails taken out in Luzerne, 
and a fierce cat thrust in their place to torture him further ; 
Maria Romano was buried alive at Rocca Patia ; Magda- 
lena Fauno underwent the same fate at San Giovanni ; 
Susanna Michelini was bound hand and foot and left to 
perish of cold and hunger on the snow at Sarcena ; Bar- 
tolomeo Fache, gashed with sabres, had the wounds filled 
up with quicklime, and perished thus m agony at Fenile ; 
Daniel Michelini had his tongue torn out at Bobbo for hav- 
ing praised God ; James Baridari perished covered with 
sulphurous matches which had been forced into his flesh 
under the nails, between the fingers, in the nostrils, in the 
lips, and all over the body and then lighted ; Daniel Ro- 
velli had his mouth filled with gunpowder which, being 
lighted, blew his head to pieces ; . . . Sara Rostignol was 
slit open from the legs to the bosom, and left so to perish 
on the road between Eyral and Luzerna ; Anna Charbon- 
nier was impaled, and carried thus on a pike from San 
Giovanni to La Torre."* 

* Quoted by George E. Waring in his book on Tyrol. 


Und dergleichen mehrf In 1630, the 
plague swept away one-half of the Vaudois 
population, including fifteen of their seven- 
teen pastors. The places of these were 
supplied from Geneva and Dauphiny, and 
the whole Vaudois people learned French 
in order to follow their services. More than 
once their number fell by unremitting perse- 
cution from the normal standard of twenty- 
five thousand to about four thousand. In 
1686, the Duke of Savoy ordered the three 
thousand that remained to give up their 
faith or leave the country. Refusing, they 
fought the French and Piedmontese armies 
till only eighty of their fighting men re- 
mained alive or uncaptured, when they gave 
up and were sent in a body to Switzerland. 
But in 1689, encouraged by William of 
Orange and led by one of their pastor-cap- 
tains, between eight hundred and nine hun- 


dred of them returned to capture their old 
homes again. They fought their way to 
Bobi, reduced to four hundred men in the 
first half year, and met every force sent 
against them until at last the Duke of Savoy, 
giving up his alliance with that abomination 
of desolation, Louis XIV., restored them to 
comparative freedom. Since which time 
they have increased and multiplied in their 
barren Alpine valleys to this day. 

What are our woes and sufferance com- 
pared with these ? Does not the recital of 
such a fight so obstinately waged against 
such odds fill us with resolution against our 
petty powers of darkness, machine politi- 
cians, spoilsmen, and the rest ? Life is worth 
living, no matter what it bring, if only such 
combats may be carried to successful ter- 
minations and one's heel set on the tyrant's 
throat. To the suicide, then, in his sup- 


posed world of multifarious and immoral 
Nature, you can appeal, and appeal in the 
name of the very evils that make his heart 
sick there, to wait and see his part of the 
battle out. And the consent to live on, 
which you ask of him under these circum- 
stances, is not the sophistical '' resignation" 
which devotees of cowering religions preach. 
It is not resignation in the sense of licking 
a despotic deity's hand. It is, on the con- 
trary, a resignation based on manliness and 
pride. So long as your would-be suicide 
leaves an evil oi his own unremedied, so long 
he has strictly no concern with evil in the 
abstract and at large. The submission 
which you demand of yourself to the gen- 
eral fact of evil in the world, your apparent 
acquiescence in it, is here nothing but the 
conviction that evil at large is none of your 
hisiness until your business with your pri- 


vate particular evils is liquidated and settled 
up. A challenge of this sort, with proper 
designation of detail, is one that need only 
be made to be accepted by men whose nor- 
mal instincts are not decayed, and your re- 
flective would-be suicide may easily be 
moved by it to face life with a certain inter- 
est again. The sentiment of honor is a 
very penetrating thing. When you and 
I, for instance, realize how many innocent 
beasts have had to suffer in cattle-cars and 
slaughter-pens and lay down their lives 
that we might grow up, all fattened and 
clad, to sit together here in comfort and 
carry on this discourse, it does, indeed, put 
our relation to the Universe in a more 
solemn light. " Does not," as a young 
Amherst philosopher (Xenos Clark, now 
dead) once wrote, "the acceptance of a 
happy life upon such terms involve a point 


of honor ? " Are we not bound to do some 
self-denying service with our lives in return 
for all those lives upon which ours are 
built ? To hear this question is to answer 
it in only one possible way, if one have a 
normally constituted heart ! 

Thus, then, we see that mere instinctive 
curiosity, pugnacity, and honor may make 
life on a purely naturalistic basis seem 
worth living from day to day to men who 
have cast away all metaphysics in order to 
get rid of hypochondria, but who are re- 
solved to owe nothing as yet to religion 
and its more positive gifts. A poor half- 
way stage, some of you may be inclined 
to say ; but at least you must grant it 
to be an honest stage ; and no man should 
dare to speak meanly of these instincts 
which are our nature's best equipment, 
and to which religion herself must in 


the last resort address her own peculiar 


And now, in turning to what religion 
may hav^e to say to the question, I come to 
what is the soul of my discourse. Religion 
has meant many things in human history, 
but when from now onward I use the word 
I mean to use it in the supernaturalist 
sense, as declaring that the so-called order 
of nature that constitutes this world's ex- 
perience is only one portion of the total 
Universe, and that there stretches beyond 
this visible world an unseen world of 
which we now know nothing positive, 
but in its relation to which the true 
significance of our present mundane life 
consists. A man's religious faith (what- 
ever more special items of doctrine it may 


involve) means for me essentially his faith 
in the existence of an unseen order of some 
kind in which the riddles of the natural 
order may be found explained. In the 
more developed religions this world has 
always been regarded as the mere scaffold- 
ing or vestibule of a truer, more eternal 
world, and affirmed to be a sphere of edu- 
cation, trial, or redemption. One must in 
some fashion die to this world before one 
can enter into life eternal. The notion that 
this physical world of wind and water, 
where the sun rises and the moon sets, is 
absolutely and ultimately the divinely aimed 
at and established thing, is one that we find 
only in very early religions, such as that of 
the most primitive Jews. It is this natural 
religion (primitive still in spite of the fact 
that poets and men of science whose good- 
will exceeds their perspicacity keep publish- 


ing it in new editions tuned to our con- 
temporary ears) that, as I said a while ago, 
has suffered definitive bankruptcy in the 
opinion of a circle of persons, amongst 
whom I must count myself, and who are 
growing more numerous every day. For 
such persons the physical order of nature, 
taken simply as Science knows it, cannot 
be held to reveal any one harmonious 
spiritual intent. It is mere weather, as 
Chauncey Wright called it, doing and un- 
doing without end. 

Now I wish to make you feel, if I can in 
the short remainder of this hour, that we 
have a right to believe that the physical 
order is only a partial order ; we have a 
right to supplement it by an unseen spiritual 
order which we assume on trust, if only 
thereby life may seem to us better worth 
living again. But as such a trust will seem 


to some of you sadly mystical and execrably 
unscientific, I must first say a word or two 
to weaken the veto which you may con- 
sider that Science opposes to our act. 

There is included in human nature an 
ingrained naturalism and materialism of 
mind which can only admit facts that are 
actually tangible. Of this sort of mind the 
entity called " Science " is the idol. Fond- 
ness for the word " scientist " is one of the 
notes by which you may know its votaries; 
and its short way of killing any opinion that 
it disbelieves in is to call it " unscientific." 
It must be granted that there is no slight 
excuse for this. Science has made such 
glorious leaps in the last three hundred 
years, and extended our knowledge of 
Nature so enormously both in general and 
in detail ; men of science, moreover, have 
as a class displayed such admirable virtues, 


that it is no wonder if the worshippers of 
Science lose their head. In this very Uni- 
versity, accordingly, I have heard more 
than one teacher say that all the funda- 
mental conceptions of truth have already 
been found by Science, and that the future 
has only the details of the picture to fill in. 
But the slightest reflection on the real con- 
ditions will suffice to show how barbaric 
such notions are. They show such a lack 
of scientific imagination, that it is hard to 
see how one who is actively advancing any 
part of Science can make a mistake so crude. 
Think how many absolutely new scientific 
conceptions have arisen in our own genera- 
tion, how many new problems have been 
formulated that were never thought of be- 
fore, and then cast an eye upon the brevity 
of Science's career. It began with Galileo 
just three hundred years ago. Four think- 


ers since Galileo, each informing his suc- 
cessor of what discoveries his own lifetime 
had seen achieved, might have passed the 
torch of Science into our hands as we sit 
here in this room. Indeed, for the matter 
of that, an audience much smaller than the 
present one, an audience of some five or 
six score people, if each person in it could 
speak for his own generation, would carry 
us away to the black unknown of the 
human species, to days without a document 
or monument to tell their tale. Is it credible 
that such a mushroom knowledge, such a 
growth overnight as this, can represent 
more than the minutest glimpse of what 
the Universe will really prove to be when 
adequately understood ? No ! our Science 
is a drop, our ignorance a sea. Whatever 
else be certain, this at least is certain : that 
the world of our present natural knowledge 


is enveloped in a larger world of some sort 
of whose residual properties we at present 
can frame no positive idea. 

Agnostic positivism, of course, admits 
this principle theoretically in the most 
cordial terms, but insists that we must not 
turn it to any practical use. We have no 
right, this doctrine tells us, to dream dreams, 
or suppose anything about the unseen part 
of the universe, merely because to do so 
may be for what we are pleased to call our 
highest interests. We must always wait 
for sensible evidence for our beliefs; and 
where such evidence is inaccessible we must 
frame no hypotheses whatever. Of course 
this is a safe enough position in abstracto. 
If a thinker had no stake in the unknown, 
no vital needs, to live or languish according 
to what the unseen world contained, a philo- 
sophic neutrality and refusal to believe either 


one way or the other would be his wisest 
cue. But, unfortunately, neutrality is not 
only inwardly difficult, it is also outwardly 
unrealizable, where our relations to an al- 
ternative are practical and vital. This is 
because, as the psychologists tell us, belief 
and doubt are living attitudes, and involve 
conduct on our part. Our only way, for 
example, of doubting, or refusing to believe, 
that a certain thing is, is continuing to act 
as if it were not. If, for instance, we refuse 
to believe that the room is getting cold, we 
must leave the windows open and light no 
fire just as if it still were warm. If I refuse 
to believe that you are worthy of my con- 
fidence, I must keep you uninformed of all 
my secrets just as if you were ?^;Avorthy 
of the same. And similarly if, as the 
agnostics tell me, I must not believe that 
the world is divine, I can only express that 


refusal by declining ever to act distinctively 
as if it were so, which can only mean act- 
ing on certain critical occasions as if it 
were not so, or in an unmoral and irrelig- 
ious way. There are, you see, inevitable 
occasions in life when inaction is a kind of 
action and must count as action, and when 
not to be for is to be practically against. 
And in all such cases strict and consistent 
neutrality is an unattainable thing. 

And after all, isn't this duty of neutrality 
where only our inner interests would lead 
us to believe, the most ridiculous of com- 
mands? Isn't it sheer dogmatic folly to 
say that our inner interests can have no 
real connection with the forces that the 
hidden world may contain ? In other cases 
divinations based on inner interests have 
proved prophetic enough. Take Science 
herself! Without an imperious inner de- 


mand on our part for ideal, logical, and 
mathematical harmonies, we should never 
have attained to proving that such har- 
monies lie hidden between all the chinks 
and interstices of the crude natural world. 
Hardly a law has been established in 
Science, hardly a fact ascertained, that was 
not first sought after, often with sweat and 
blood, to gratify an inner need. Whence 
such needs come from we do not know 
we find them in us, and biological psy- 
chology so far only classes them with 
Darwin's "accidental variations." But the 
inner need of believing that this world of 
nature is a sign of something more spiritual 
and eternal than itself is just as strong and 
authoritative in those who feel it, as the 
inner need of uniform laws of causation 
ever can be in a professionally scientific 
head. The toil of many generations has 


proved the latter need prophetic. Why 
may not the former one be prophetic, too ? 
And if needs of ours outrun the visible 
universe, why may not that be a sign that 
an invisible universe is there ? What, in 
short, has authority to debar us from trust- 
ing our religious demands ? Science as 
such assuredly has no authority, for she 
can only say what is, not what is not ; and 
the agnostic " thou shalt not believe with- 
out coercive sensible evidence " is simply 
an expression (free to any one to make) of 
private personal appetite for evidence of a 
certain peculiar kind. 

Now, when I speak of trusting our relig- 
ious demands, just what do I mean by 
" trusting " ? Is the word to carry with it 
license to define in detail an invisible world 
and to anathematize and excommunicate 
those whose trust is different? Certainly 


not ! Our faculties of belief were not pri- 
marily given us to make orthodoxies and 
heresies withal ; they were given us to live 
by. And to trust our religious demands 
means first of all to live in the light of them, 
and to act as if the invisible world which 
they suggest were real. It is a fact of human 
nature that men can live and die by the help 
of a sort of faith that goes without a single 
dogma or definition. The bare assurance 
that this natural order is not ultimate but a 
mere sign or vision, the external staging of 
a many-storied universe, in which spiritual 
forces have the last word and are eternal ; 
this bare assurance is to such men enough 
to make life seem worth living in spite of 
every contrary presumption suggested by 
its circumstances on the natural plane. 
Destroy this inner assurance, vague as it is, 
however, and all the light and radiance of 


existence is extinguished for these persons 
at a stroke. Often enough the wild-eyed 
look at life, the suicidal mood will then 
set in. 

And now the application comes directly 
home to you and me. Probably to almost 
every one of us here the most adverse life 
would seem well worth living, if we only 
could be certain that our bravery and pa- 
tience with it were terminating and eventu- 
ating and bearing fruit somewhere in an 
unseen spiritual world. But granting we 
are not certain, does it then follow that a 
bare trust in such a world is a fool's para- 
dise and lubberland, or rather that it is a 
living attitude in which we are free to in- 
dulge ? Well, we are free to trust at our 
own risks anything that is not impossible 
and that can bring analogies to bear in its 
behalf. That the world of physics is prob- 


ably not absolute, all the converging mul- 
titude of arfjuments that make in favor of 
idealism tend to prove. And that our whole 
physical life may lie soaking in a spiritual 
atmosphere, a dimension of Being that we 
at present have no organ for apprehending, 
is vividly suggested to us by the analogy of 
the life of our domestic animals. Our dogs, 
for example, are in our human life but not of 
it. They witness hourly the outward body of 
events whose inner meaning cannot, by any 
possible operation, be revealed to their in- 
telligence, events in which they themselves 
often play the cardinal part. My terrier 
bites a teasing boy, for example, and the 
father demands damages. The dog may be 
present at every step of the negotiations, and 
see the money paid without an inkhng of 
what it all means, without a suspicion that 
it has anything to do with Jihu. And he 


never can know in his natural dog's life. 
Or take another case which used greatly to 
impress me in my medical-student days. 
Consider a poor dog whom they are vivi- 
secting in a laboratory. He lies strapped 
on a board and shrieking at his execution- 
ers, and to his own dark consciousness is 
literally in a sort of hell. He cannot see a 
single redeeming ray in the whole business ; 
and yet all these diabolical-seeming events 
are usually controlled by human intentions 
with which, if his poor benighted mind 
could only be made to catch a glimpse of 
them, all that is heroic in him would relig- 
iously acquiesce. Healing truth, relief to 
future sufferings of beast and man are to be 
bought by them. It is genuinely a process 
of redemption. Lying on his back on the 
board there he is performing a function in- 
calculably higher than any prosperous ca- 


nine life admits of; and yet, of the whole 
performance, this function is the one portion 
that must remain absolutely beyond his ken. 
Now turn from this to the life of man. 
In the dog's life we see the world invisible 
to him because we live in both worlds. In 
human life, although w^e only see our world, 
and his within it, yet encompassing both 
these worlds a still wider world may be 
there as unseen by us as our world is by 
him ; and to believe in that world may be 
the most essential function that our lives in 
this world have to perform. But ** may 
be ! may be ! " one now hears the positivist 
contemptuously exclaim ; " what use can a 
scientific life have for maybes?" Well, I 
reply, the " scientific " life itself has much 
to do with maybes, and human life at large 
has everything to do with them. So far as 
man stands for anything, and is productive 


or originative at all, his entire vital function 
may be said to be to deal with maybes. Not 
a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness 
or courage is done, except upon a maybe ; 
not a service, not a sally of generosity, not 
a scientific exploration or experiment or 
text-book, that 7nay not be a mistake. It is 
only by risking our persons from one hour 
to another that we live at all. And often 
enough our faith beforehand in an uncerti- 
fied result is the only thing that makes the 
result come true. Suppose, for instance, that 
you are climbing a mountain and have 
worked yourself into a position from which 
the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have 
faith that you can successfully make it, and 
your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. 
But mistrust yourself, and think of all the 
sweet things you have heard the scientists 
say oi maybes, and you will hesitate so long 


that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, 
and launching yourself in a moment of 
despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a 
case (and it belongs to an enormous class), 
the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to 
believe what is in the line of your Jieeds, for 
only by the belief is the need fulfilled. Re- 
fuse to believe, and you shall indeed be 
right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But 
believe, and again you shall be right, for 
you shall save yourself. You make one or 
the other of two possible universes true by 
your trust or mistrust, both universes having 
been only viaybes^ in this particular, before 
you contributed your act. 

Now, it appears to me that the question 
whether hfe is worth living is subject to 
conditions logically much like these. It 
does, indeed, depend on you the liver. If 
you surrender to the nightmare view and 


crown the evil edifice by your own suicide, 
you have indeed made a picture totally 
black. Pessimism, completed by your act, 
is true beyond a doubt, so far as your world 
goes. Your mistrust of life has removed 
w^hatever worth your own enduring exist- 
ence might have given to it ; and now, 
throughout the whole sphere of possible 
influence of that existence, the mistrust has 
proved itself to have had divining power. 
But suppose, on the other hand, that instead 
of giving way to the nightmare view you 
cling to it that this world is not the idtima- 
iuni. Suppose you find yourself a very 
well-spring, as Wordsworth says, of 

" Zeal, and the virtue to exist by faith 
As soldiers live by courage ; as, by strength 
Of heart, the sailor fights with roaring seas." 

Suppose, however thickly evils crowd upon 
you, that your unconquerable subjectivity 


proves to be their match, and that you find 
a more wonderful joy than any passive 
pleasure can bring in trusting ever in the 
larger whole. Have you not now made 
life worth living on tJiese terms ? What sort 
of a thing would life really be, with your 
qualities ready for a tussle with it, if it 
only brought fair weather and gave these 
higher faculties of yours no scope ? Please 
remember that optimism and pessimism are 
definitions of the world, and that our own 
reactions on the world, small as they are in 
bulk, are integral parts of the whole thing, 
and necessarily help to determine the 
definition. They may even be the decisive 
elements in determining the definition. A 
large mass can have its unstable equilibrium 
overturned by the addition of a feather's 
weight. A long phrase may have its sense 
reversed by the addition of the three letters 


, o^ t. This life is worth living, we can 
say, since it is what we make it, from the 
vi07'al point of view, and we are determined 
to make it from that point of view, so far as 
we have anything to do with it, a success. 

Now, in this description of faiths that 
verify themselves I have assumed that our 
faith in an invisible order is what inspires 
those efforts and that patience of ours that 
make this visible order good for moral men. 
Our faith in the seen world's goodness 
(goodness now meaning fitness for success- 
ful moral and religious life) has verified it- 
self by leaning on our faith in the unseen 
world. But will our faith in the unseen 
world similarly verify itself? Who knows ? 

Once more it is a case of maybe. And 
once more maybes are the essence of the 
situation. I confess that I do not see why 
the very existence of an invisible world 


may not In part depend on the personal re- 
sponse which any one of us may make to 
the religious appeal. God himself, in short, 
may draw vital strength and increase of very 
being from our fidelity. For my own part, 
I do not know what the sweat and blood 
and tragedy of this life mean, if they mean 
anything short of this. If this life be not a 
real fight, in which something is eternally 
gained for the Universe by success, it is no 
better than a game of private theatricals 
from which one may withdraw at will. But 
\t feels like a real fight; as if there were 
something really wild in the Universe which 
we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, 
are needed to redeem. And first of all to 
redeem our own hearts from atheisms and 
fears. For such a half-wild, half-saved uni- 
verse our nature is adapted. The deepest 
thing in our nature in this Binnenleben (as 


a German doctor lately has called it), this 
dumb region of the heart in which we 
dwell alone with our willingnesses and un- 
willingnesses, our faiths and fears. As 
through the cracks and crannies of subter- 
ranean caverns the earth's bosom exudes its 
waters, which then form the fountain-heads 
of springs, so in these crepuscular depths 
of personality the sources of all our outer 
deeds and decisions take their rise. Here 
is our deepest organ of communication with 
the nature of things; and compared with 
these concrete movements of our soul all 
abstract statements and scientific arguments, 
the veto, for example, which the strict posi- 
tivist pronounces upon our faith, sound to 
us like mere chatterings of the teeth. For 
here possibilities, not finished facts, are the 
realities with which we have actively to 
deal; and to quote my friend William Salter, 


of the Philadelphia Ethical Society, **as 
the essence of courage is to stake one's life 
on a possibility, so the essence of faith is 
to believe that the possibility exists." 

These, then, are my last words to you : 
Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is 
worth living, and your belief will help create 
the fact. The "scientific proof" that you 
are right may not be clear before the day 
of judgment (or some stage of Being which 
that expression may serve to symbolize) is 
reached. But the faithful fighters of this 
hour, or the beings that then and there will 
represent them, may then turn to the faint- 
hearted, who here decline to go on, with 
words like those with which Henry IV. 
greeted the tardy Crillon after a great vic- 
tory had been gained : '* Hang yourself, 
brave Crillon ! we fought at Arques, and 
you were not there."